Legislative action stalls
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Legislative action stalls

Date: May 14, 2008
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The disenfranchisement of Republicans in the state legislature came to a head Wednesday as some House Republicans slowed passage of several bills and called for the ouster of House Speaker Rod Jetton.

A group of House Republicans approached the Democratic leadership about whether Jetton could be removed despite the short amount of time left in the legislative session.

"They just came to me as an option of what they could send a message to the speaker," said the leader of House Democrats, Rep. Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County. "They have some serious problems of sticking together and their major priorities aren't going to pass, which is good for the people of Missouri; and for the minority party's side, we don't want some of these things to pass."

LeVota refused to divulge who actually contacted him. And he acknowledged that a leadership change is unlikely within the last two days of the session. But LeVota said the approach indicated problems for Republicans.

"We're in a real void of leadership from the governor. We don't know what his priorities are, we don't know what he's pushing for, and I think the answer is he's not pushing anything because he's not running for anything," LeVota said. "Leadership is needed to run a state government effectively."

Legislative business slowed at the Capitol on Wednesday despite the tradition of the last week of the session being a flurry of activity. Often the last days of the session are filled with attempts to pass important legislation, but the only public presence of the governor has been in faxes -- the latest Wednesday was a threat to call a special session of the legislature if lawmakers fail to reach agreement on a proposal against illegal foreigners.

LeVota said he doesn't expect a leadership change, but "there's some discontent within the caucus."

Not all House Republicans said they felt a lack of leadership this session.

"Well, [Jetton] has been a lame duck, but I think he's done a pretty good job of leadership as far as trying to keep things going," said Rep. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown.

Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, said Jetton was an important part of the Republicans gaining the majority six years ago.

"He has done a good job with a very difficult position. It's not easy being speaker of 163 representatives," Stevenson said. "And any time you move up in the leadership, you are going to have disagreements."

Despite the words of assurance, the divisions among House Republicans were apparent Wednesday as the Republican leadership did not even attempt motions to close off extended debate that was stalling House action.

Halfway through the day, lobbyists had left both chambers and moved to the building's balcony to enjoy the May sun and small bottles of Bud Lite as legislators stalled voting in the House and Senate.

In other news, the House voted Wednesday to repeal a law that allows large private landowners to establish their own villages. This came after the House spent much of the day loading the bill with amendments, most of which were voted down.

House Speaker Jetton, R-Marble Hill, who was the bill's sponsor last year, opposed the law's repeal.

The measure, Jetton said, works well in rural areas so the county won't have to cover the cost of expanding water and electricity to new areas. He also said urban areas weren't handling expansion properly.

But the law received serious criticism last year from both sides of the aisle.

"It's caused a lot of turmoil in the areas that we represent," said Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield. "We just want to put it back like it was so that those first-class counties and those local communities can begin governing their own areas as they see fit."

--Bria Scudder and Rebecca Beitsch contributed to this report.